Chua Beng Huat’s article Conceptualising an East Asian Popular Culture

Chua Beng Huat’s article Conceptualising an East Asian Popular Culture, is a response to the East Asian pop culture that became largely celebrated in East and Southeast Asia from the 1990s, when the movement of multilingual and multi-format pop culture began to overtake the linguistic, ethnic and national limits. It is thought that Chua’s work demonstrates that the pop-cultural production and revolution of which are in support of the globalisation and regionalisation procedures in East Asia should not be national in origin but should stem from various national origins, regardless of any existing political views of the origin and its history with political fissure. Huat warns, however, that the national popular may be assembled in an attempt to overthrow the border-crossing capabilities of the inter-Asian pop culture. It is considered that Asia is being portrayed and perceived in these cultural productions and acknowledges that Chua’s work is particular in that it also grovels with the political and economic constraints that underpin the conventional pop consumption as a socio-cultural occurrence, rather than viewing the consumption as identity politics. The article deduces by acknowledging the importance Chua’s role has been as an institutional player that has prompted the analysis of East Asian pop culture within the region.

Huat’s (p.204) reading focuses on the analysis of the Eastern Asian popular culture by dissecting three central elements: “production, distribution and consumption”. Through such processes an East Asian ‘identity’ has been derived from the consumption of popular culture commodities. Together, both ideological and emotional desire that promote the act of ‘Confusion East Asia’, implies that the Confucianism is the basis of East Asian culture, however, many South East Asians would disagree with this statement. Confucian East Asia was a cultural shift that fostered widespread negativity from critics, with Chinese communities reportedly being a source of ongoing conflict and disagreements (Yao, 2002). Chua discusses the heightened exposure to corruption at this time, which saw exploitation of women, families and children. When it came to considering ideas of an East Asian pop culture, decisions were largely influenced by the United States of America. With America importing masses of music, movies and television into Asia, Western influence began to gradually seep into and tamper with Asian pop culture. Pop culture within Eastern Asia is largely consumed via a number of mediums such as newspapers. This infectious nature of the pop culture craze has proven to grow economic value of which Chua highlighted progressed through stages of marketing, resulting in distribution, furthering promotion and finally, seeing circulation of commodities throughout various locations within the Asian continent.

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Similarly, to Huat’s discussion, C.J.W-L. Wee considers in his article, East Asian Pop Culture and the Trajectory of Asian Consumption, how popular cultural commodities have intertwined through the national borders of Eastern Asian countries since the 1980s, facilitating a fluid structure of an ‘East Asian Popular Culture’ as a body of enquiry. There have been attempts to shape this body through conceptual and analytic means, depicting three constitutive components of production, distribution and consumption, with each East Asian country partaking in diverse components in an unbalanced manner (Huat, p. 205). Production can either work in a lone geographic location or, production might see each of the essential component sub-processes being performed in various locations. In saying this, Wee highlights that preference for such arrangements typically mirror the comparative supremacy of the production placement in the trading of its completed commodities. With both consumption and consumers being located within the cultural spheres in which they are rooted, it is thought that the meanings and viewing satisfactions are constructed and built around the cultural practices and values of the audience in focus. Conceptually, within the multitude of consumption positions, it is argued that the one in which the audience is watching as an imported programme is typically most intriguing. From this stand point, we can draw differences better the cultures of the location of such consumption and the source of the production location becomes most evident.

Contingent on the varying locations within East Asia, the production and consumption of pop culture greatly differs. Much effort is required then considering the production of East Asian pop culture, from “writing, all technical skills from acting, singing, filming, recording and financing arrangements” (Huat, p.205). It is thought that this idea of pop culture production can be established within the realm of a single geographical location (consider the Japanese pop culture industry, labelled as ‘Japanisation’), or from diverse locations. The trade and distribution of pop culture is thought to be capable of driving the idea of a ‘Pan-Asia’. Consider the televising of Japanese pop culture seen in the form of TV dramas – a form of commodity that depicts the element of Pan-Asia, as Korean actors star in Japanese dramas, such as the Pan-Asian series, ‘Friends’. Pan-Asia is also highly influenced by differing Asian countries “Korean popular culture industry appears to be the most influenced by the standards of Japanese production” (Huat: 207). It is thought that this influence may be a driving force that generates cultural competition within Eastern Asia in regards to pop music. Pan-Asia is present in a number of Korean commodities, particularly songs, in which they often contain snippets of songs taken from Japanese music. In contrast to the production of pop culture, the viewer consumption is founded only in specific locations, meaning that this consumption is specific for one type of intended audience. An example of this can be found in many Japanese or Korean songs, in which they often make reference to and uphold a degree of political undertone, with whom only those living within the specific location will be aware of and expel a greater meaning to. As Huat described, there are three specific audience types present within East Asia pop culture: audiences watching locally produced programs, audiences who originate from the same homeland and, audiences watching imported footage from diverse locations.

With popular culture acting as an inescapable domain of capitalist pursuit, the economics behind this growing occurrence are largely visible. As Huat (p.203) stated, marketing, distribution, promotion and circulation of pop culture commodities are now moving throughout the realm of East Asia, having become an essential component in the planning of product producers, financiers, directors, producers and artistes, wherever it is that such persons are geographically situated. It is thought that Huat is justified in suggesting that the flows of finance, production and consumers from various linguistic and national regions within East Asia, give substance to the concept of East Asia pop culture. This is supported by the every-growing and intensified export traffic that is continuing to develop between countries, regions and towns – the economics behind the trans-location cultural movement, the border crossing of pop cultural commodities, of professionals and the modes of audience consumption from various geographical locations – that as a cultural movement in its own right has garnered little analytic appeal.

As one would expect, it is plausible that the localised audience of each constituting country in East Asia will continue to have their own particular cultural characteristics rooted and built upon the routines in which they partake in in everyday life. However, it is difficult to comprehend that audiences from diverse locations should also foster certain characteristics as a result of being a consumer of trading commodities. Such considerations remain as an empirical problem that can be concluded only through comparative analysis issued by the collective region of East Asia.